Receive Updates from Mind of Menyhert via Email!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Inside the Mind of a Russian-born American on the eve of the Olympics

    There are various reasons why sports fans decide to declare their allegiance to a certain team. Perhaps they live in or near the city that team represents, and have grown attached to that strip of land they call home. Or maybe they appreciate the style of play exemplified by a certain team: anyone who appreciates the rough, physical play typical of North American hockey found in Canada and the United States would have appreciated the “Broad Street Bullies” of the 1970s, as the furiously motivated Philadelphia Flyers dominated and intimidated the more finesse-oriented Soviet squad.
Or maybe it is a patriotic feeling-your country is sending its native athletes to play for honor and for glory.

    In a little more than two months, the world will look towards the Russian resort town of Sochi, as the spectacle of the Winter Olympics begins on February 7th. People of all races, origins, creeds, and orientations will raise their respective country’s banner in an effort to will them to victory. The chess match of international affairs will be stopped as friendly competition takes the stage.

    For some people, however, the lines of nationality and origin are not so obviously drawn. That is the case with me, especially in these specific Olympic Games. I was born in Moscow, the capital and largest city of Russia, and came to the US as an infant, where I have lived ever since.

    Culturally, I am very much an American. I’ve lived almost all my life in the United States, with American family, friends, and influences. But I have never forgotten my Russian roots.

    In the Summer Olympics, this is not much of a problem. There are not any sports I follow very closely in the Summer Games, and as evidenced by past Olympiads in London, Beijing, and Athens, I can count on both the Americans and Russians to pull in a large haul of medals of all colors. (In London, the US won the most total medals and Russia came in third) The American and Russian teams specialize in different events, and there is not much of a concrete rivalry between the two nations when the air is warm and pleasant. Of course, when it comes to summer sports, competition comes from the uniquely American sports of baseball and football, which do not occupy the stages of Olympic competition.

    But when the trees lose their leaves, snow covers the grounds, and ice rinks echo with the sounds of the fastest game on Earth, things change. I ski, and actively follow the sport of hockey.

    Now, watching skiing is more of a spectacle than a competition for me, likely because I do not ski competitively. When an American or Russian athlete steps up, ready to break out of the gates, I get excited and hope they medal, but I am more concerned with seeing the best of the best show the world the highest level of athleticism while coasting down whatever mountain they’re on.

    Hockey is a different story, however. Both the United States and Russia boast rich hockey history. The sport, a fantastic export from our Canadian neighbors, boasts massive popularity in both countries. When the American and Russian teams hit the ice in hockey tournaments these days, they both have tangible chances at victory-and at facing each other.

    So how does one decide who to root for in this type of scenario? Well, it boils down to this: I want both the Russian and American teams to succeed, and it’s of course difficult to pick a favorite when both could bring home the hardware. At the beginning of a tournament such as this, I start out, hoping for the best for both teams. If one team is knocked out, it’s unfortunate, but it also clears up my allegiances. In the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Russia met Canada in the Quarterfinals and was roundly defeated, 7-3. The Canadians, with a rowdy and deliriously happy crowd behind them, looked as if they were three steps ahead of the Russian “Red Machine” for the vast majority of the game. It was a difficult game to stomach, especially since the Russkies had fallen behind early and stayed behind, not showing much fight at all. But what it did do was eliminate one of my teams. Now I could concentrate on the fortunes of the American team, who would eventually lose a heartbreaker to the Canadians in the final round.

If the American team makes it to the Gold medal game (playing someone other than Russia) you can bet your bottom dollar that come that final showdown, I will be draped in the Stars and Stripes, screaming and singing for Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, and Jonathan Quick to bring hockey gold home. The same applies to the Russian team.

Those circumstances depend on the American and Russian teams not meeting at some point in the tournament. So what if they do meet? And in what circumstances-will it be the Gold medal game or the Quarterfinals?

    Judging by the rosters put forward by Team USA and Team Russia, there’s a fairly good possibility that these two countries will meet in a high-stakes game. Both are awash in talent and potential. If these teams are to meet in a game that does not decide the awarding of a medal, it’s relatively easy for me to know what to do after the final siren sounds: whoever wins that game and advances.

    I know a USA-Russia showdown for Olympic Gold would be a dramatic, exciting, and fun-to-watch game that would make citizens of both countries flock to their nearest TV. The winner would be washed over in celebration and joy, and the loser will be heartbroken to lose to a longtime rival. But as much as it would help grow the game of hockey in both countries, it would be at least sixty minutes of conflicting feelings for myself. I’d be happy of course that one of the countries would win gold, but it’d be at the expense of my other team.

Shouting Match: Westboro comes to GW


The Westboro, Baptist Church is coming to GW's Mt. Vernon campus.

And everyone is up in arms about this, boy. People are already talking about counter protests. To that I say "No Thanks."

Now in no way do I condone this church. Their views towards Gender and Sexual Minorities are disgusting.

But counter protesting these ignoramuses is not going to accomplish anything. People are going to do this because it feels good, not because it accomplishes something. After this protest happens, GW students are going to be all over social media, highlighting in great detail how righteous they are and how vile the Westboro Baptist Church is.

However, there are better ways to advocate for GSM equality than to shout at a group of delusional inbred morons.

When we learn about the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, we don't learn about the college students who spent an hour shouting at a couple Klansmen for being racists. And the students who show up and chew out the Westboro Baptist Church won't be in the history books we use to teach our children about this civil rights movement.

I'm not saying we should be quiet on the issue of GSM equality. By all means, we should continue to campaign for equal rights and recognition for our homosexual, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters. I am proud to be a native of Massachusetts, where the legalization of same sex marriage seems like ancient history.

But I fear this counter-protest is going to happen for some of the wrong reasons. Namely, vanity and self-recognition.

"But Kyle, you have a picture of yourself posted to facebook where you're holding a sign supporting marriage equality from the rally at the Supreme Court in late March!"

Yes, I do. But I was there to support a concrete goal: the judicial repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8.  The Westboro Baptist Church doesn't accomplish anything with their protests except angering people. They don't campaign for concrete goals. (And even if they did, there is no way in hell they'd succeed in implementing their disgusting views) And since they don't campaign for concrete goals, their protests mean nothing.

Ignore these people. They crave attention, don't give it to them.

Reverse Psychology: The answer to Iran?


Here's a piece I wrote on Iran for my internship with the Endowment for Middle East Truth.

Currently, the United States and European Union have sanctions in place against the Islamic Republic of Iran in an effort to cripple their economy and to force them to give up on their nuclear program. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel remains on edge despite the sanctions, and the Islamic Republic’s inflammatory rhetoric against Israel provides ample reason for that attitude. If they are allowed to build nuclear warheads, keeping peace in the Middle East will be exponentially more difficult than it already is, and that’s saying something. It’s a stalemate today, but it needs resolving, and sooner would be better than later. The Iranian Government insists they are only interested in producing clean energy, but it’s hard to believe that when only last February, to commemorate the 1979 revolution, pro-government Iranians marched in the streets of Tehran with a fake missile adorned with the Iranian flag and chanted “Marg Bar Amrika!” ("Death to America!”) and “Marg bar Esrail!” (Death to Israel!)

Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, was elected in June with a substantially higher percentage of the votes than any other candidate. Since being sworn in last month, President Rouhani has replaced his predecessor’s hard-line rhetoric with more    concessionary speech aimed towards negotiations...for now. While his different style may represent some opportunity, there are reasons to be skeptical of Mr. Rouhani. Rouhani is president, but the President of Iran answers to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei is able to override and block what the president wants, and he very well could do that sometime in the future, and possibly sooner than later.

Actions speak louder than words. Iran claims they do not want to use their nuclear crusade for defense purposes but they refuse to let anyone see their facilities. If Rouhani really wants to use nuclear power for peaceful reasons (And their insistence on enriching uranium at home is troubling), he should open up Iranian nuclear facilities to the world and prove it. Whether Rouhani will do that is unclear and unlikely, as what he says domestically is a far cry from the insistence that Iran’s not interested in nuclear weapons.

This isn’t the first time that a perceived moderate has become president of Iran. In 1997, Mohammad “Ayatollah Gorbachev” Khatami was elected president. Like Rouhani, he won decisively and his election was met with similar fervor and anticipation. However, he was the president who oversaw the start of Iranian nuclear ambitions, of which Rouhani was a major player. 

Attacking Iran, or trying to forcibly install a pro-American government, should be an absolute last resort. History suggests that would be an extremely risky operation. In 1953, the United States and United Kingdom successfully engineered a coup that deposed Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, a secular democrat, in favor of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Pahlavi, a constitutional monarch, became an absolute monarch and an oppressive dictator. When the 1979 Islamic Revolution occurred, the USA gave asylum to the dying Shah, and the Iranian people were furious. Since then, US-Iranian relations have been extremely rocky.

Oddly, despite that blunder, many of today’s Iranian people are quite fond of the United States. Many Iranians are young and either do not remember or were not alive during the Islamic Revolution. Millions of Iranians have immigrated to the United States since 1979. Many Iranians believe the Islamic Republic to be misguided, ineffective, and corrupt.   Joshua Teitelbaum cites Iranians’ responses to Fmr. President Ahmadinejad: “I wish that all of this energy that is devoted to the destruction of Israel would be directed towards the destruction of drug addiction, poverty, corruption and prostitution.” Keep in mind, it was only four years ago that Iranians jammed the streets of their cities in the Green Revolution, where thousands demanded new elections and even an end to the Islamic Republic.

The United States’ objective is to persuade the Iranian government to abandon their ambitions of nuclear weapons. To do this, the policy has been to institute sanctions  to cripple the economy so the Iranians are forced to concentrate on other economic goals. But could the same goal be achieved by doing the opposite? The Iranian economy is in shambles right now, and the country’s currency is nearly worthless: 25,000 Iranian rials make up one US Dollar.

The government wields considerable influence in many Iranian industries, but they’re not translating that influence into prosperity. This is where we may have a way in. Opening business with the Iranian people in new industries as well as industries they’ve already in place may convince the Iranian people that nuclear power is not the right avenue to pursue. The key to changing this dynamic is economics. If the preliminary diplomacy with Rouhani continues, up the ante. Tell Rouhani that we’re going to invest in Iranian businesses and assist with peaceful Iranian industries if he agrees to let us in to the Middle Eastern nation to get a better picture of the nuclear ambitions of the government. If the Iranians want to insist that their nuclear project is only for civilian purposes, strongly encourage alternative fuels with the aid of the EU. To avoid suspicion stemming from the memory of the 1953 coup, make and keep a promise for no government intervention as long as the government agrees to either pursue alternatives to nuclear power or complete transparency. Show the Iranian people that the American way is stronger, more accommodating, and more effective than what they deal with domestically.

Cheaters and Hypocrites: Some remarks concerning Edward Snowden


Concerning this whole Edward Snowden fiasco, I must admit, I think everyone's wrong.

President Obama deserves the considerable criticism for continuing policies he so vehemently criticized when Fmr. President Bush used them. You could make the argument that those things were said on the campaign trail and he's not bound to honor campaign promises (which is technically true) but it doesn't reflect well on him or his administration. The NSA's power and abilities need to be reigned in, and unfortunately Obama doesn't seem very interested in doing so.

But I am not a fan of Edward Snowden either. People will compare him to the people who took the Pentagon Papers to the Supreme Court, but the two events are actually fairly different. The people who fought and won the release of those documents played the game fair and won, in that they believed the Nixon Administration prohibiting the release of these documents was an injustice. So they took that injustice to a court-the highest in the land, eventually-and their case proved more valid than that of the Nixon Administration's.

Edward Snowden did not do the same. He was not a journalist, he worked in government security. A journalist's job is to report the news and hold the government accountable for their actions-and therefore, the people at the New York Times were doing their job where they saw injustice. When they saw obstacles to their reporting, they successfully worked around them in a legal manner. Working in a government entity, however, entails an agreement to keep government secrets safe. Edward Snowden did not honour that agreement-in simplest terms, he lied.

Now, what he released is obviously terrible news and the influence of entities like the NSA is definitely unsettling. But just because you find injustice does not mean you should go full-on vigilante. Snowden could have fought the injustices he saw without releasing sensitive material from within, and had he played his cards right, he may have been able to release the information in a legal manner. Had he been able to do that, he would have been commended for it rather than his path, which led to collecting dust in the Moscow Airport.

On another note, it's difficult to say a person has the US' best interest in heart when he runs off to Russia, a country with much less freedoms than our own and arguably still one of our rivals and appeals his case to the People's Republic of China, where doing the same thing with their secrets would surely get him killed.

I hesitate to call this man a traitor to the United States. Treason is a difficult crime to convict. But I do believe he needs to deal with the legal consequences, what he did was a violation of both trust and the law. But what he revealed about our own government is very much wrong and needs to be fought against as well.

Cold War Embers, GSM rights, and the Winter Olympics


Note: GSM stands for Gender and Sexual Minorities.

You know, I was progressively getting really excited about the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. My country of origin (Russia) gets to host the Winter Games for the first time since the Moscow Summer Games in 1980, 13 years before I was born. The Russian men's hockey team has never won Olympic Gold since the fall of Communism and this February they get the chance to do it to the background music of the screaming, chanting, and singing of their countrymen.

Unfortunately, instead of hearing early predictions for the medal count, construction updates on Olympic venues, and the various speculations as to what will be in the spectacle of the Opening Ceremony, we've been treated to hearing about the numerous blatantly discriminatory and homophobic laws the Russian Federation has enacted recently. As of writing this, it is  illegal in Russia for two people of the same sex to display affection. It's also illegal to display "homosexual propaganda" or to teach that homosexuality is a natural human behavior.

Bars in the US, Canada, and Western Europe are boycotting Russian vodka (though in some cases they didn't do their homework...Stolichnaya Vodka is bottled and made in Latvia, not Russia, and the company vigorously supports gay rights)

Do I want the United States, my home country, to boycott? No, I don't. I don't think it would achieve much except the boycotting countries feeling like they have the moral high ground. The media in Russia is run by the state, and if Winter Olympic powerhouses like Austria, Germany, Canada, Norway, the USA, Sweden, and Switzerland (all of which allow at least some recognition and protection of gender/sexual minorities) decide to wait until 2018-because that means more medals for Russia. Sure, other countries will claim Russia didn't win those medals fair and square, but Russia doesn't have a great history of listening to other countries. Russian media isn't going to cover the plight of gay athletes because that'd probably considered "homosexual propaganda", which is illegal. I don't think the athletes of other countries should have to miss out on what could be the defining moment of their careers because Tsar Putin and the rest of his lowlife cronies in the Kremlin care way too much about what between 3-10% of the population of Russia does in their own personal lives. Not only that, I think this is a slap in the face to the fans who will miss out on a chance to see the Olympics in all their glory.

Boycotts have not had lasting consequences. You could argue that the US should have boycotted the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, capital of Nazi Germany, claiming there is a "price for tolerating intolerance" (I think it was the New York Times that said this) but would Hitler have stopped treating non-Aryans badly because our athletes didn't show up? Probably not. The same can be said for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The People's Republic of China had an abysmal human rights record before, during, and after the 2008 Summer Olympics, but the US didn't boycott them. The US didn't change policy after the USSR boycotted the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Did the Soviets change course in Afghanistan after the US boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980? Not until the Soviets themselves realized the war was no longer worth fighting and their economy was crippled.

The point is, these laws are deplorable, but there are many ways to make a statement to the Kremlin in these Olympics besides the boycott. The NHL has partnered up with the You Can Play Project, a cause to increase awareness and respect of gay athletes. It's difficult to tell what the Kremlin will listen to, but this isn't it. Something obviously needs to be done, but it's a foggy road ahead.

Thoughts on Russia Day (Мысли в День России)


"Two Romes have fallen (Rome, Constantinople). The third stands. And there will be no fourth."
-Grand Duke Vasili III, speaking of Moscow, Russia's capital and largest city

This statement was made in 1510-and the patriotism of Vasili III, has endured through centuries of hardship and turbulence.

Today, June 12, is Russia Day. On this day in 1990, the Russian Federation declared its sovereignty from the Soviet Union, an independence day of sorts.

The holiday, however, is one that is still met with ambivalence in Russia. Many Russians look at the declaration of sovereignty from the USSR as a negative event. After communism fell, Russia was pushed into a time of turbulence, poverty, crime, and an ineffective and corrupt government under President Boris Yeltsin. The country is still trying to build its way out of the problems it encountered in the early 1990s.

I was born in Moscow and came to the United States at the age of 1, so I identify as an American. The United States of America is my country. However, I have always been aware and proud of my Russian roots. Russia is a beautiful country, with rich culture, gorgeous natural preserves, proud traditions, and a history of brilliant minds. St. Petersburg and Moscow are unparalleled in their beauty as cities. The Russian people are hardy, intelligent, tenacious, and very patriotic.

But I admit I’m also a bit ambivalent toward this holiday, though not for the same reasons.

Russia is not free. President Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian leader. He refused to nullify the fraudulent December 2011 legislative elections, and has actively cracked down on those who speak out against him and his political party. He has encouraged tired anti-American sentiment warmed up from the days of communism in his policies and rhetoric. If Putin's recent anti-adoption policies were in place in early 1994, I wouldn't be writing this today. The Kremlin actively supports the malicious government of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria as he slaughters his own people. The Russian Orthodox Church is overstepping its boundaries as its influence grows by encouraging extremely prejudiced treatment of LGBT Russians. (A bill that forbids informing children about homosexuality and stigmatizes gay Russians just passed the Duma yesterday, 436-0) Russia's opposition parties-with the exception of the small but well-principled Яблоко (Yablaka/United Democrats) party- are a sham and do very little to oppose Putin. The principle reason to celebrate this holiday-freedom from an oppressive regime-is undermined by the injustices of the current Russian Government.

The opportunity Russia had to become a fluid, free, and economically strong representative democracy after communism fell was wasted in the 1990s and 2000s. but luckily, that opportunity is not yet gone. Protests have been stewing since the illegitimate legislative elections in 2011 and the imprisonment of feminist punk band Pussy Riot gained worldwide attention. An emerging middle class of Russians are sick of Putin, and with education, will hopefully rise to oppose him in higher numbers. The people will speak and a new revolution for democracy will come someday, hopefully sooner than later.

Марш против Путина! За Русский народ! За родина! За свобода и новый день! Слава России!
March against Putin! For the Russian people! For the Motherland! For freedom and a new day! Glory to Russia!

2013 Major League Baseball Predictions: The American League


x-Toronto Blue Jays 93-69
z-Tampa Bay Rays 88-74
Baltimore Orioles 85-77
New York Yankees 84-78
Boston Red Sox 78-84

No, it isn’t upside down. Canada’s Jays went out and got half a rotation by picking up R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle. If both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion stay healthy, they could combine for 90 Home Runs and nearly 250 RBI. Brett Lawrie is an up-and-coming star, and Jose Reyes will at the very least get on base frequently and score runs. The main questions for the Jays this season are the bullpen and staying healthy. The bullpen was shaky last year and last year’s Tigers saw how important an effective bullpen can be, and Toronto was badly damaged by injures last year. Still, as long as they can gel as a team and stay relatively healthy, this team has the tools necessary to win the division.

Tampa Bay lost James Shields, but the fact of the matter is that they are still an extremely strong team when it comes to pitching, and that’s why they’ve been a consistent contender since 2008. However, their offense has always been a liability, and we don’t really know for sure how good Wil Myers will be and when he will make it to the big leagues. Sure, Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist are great, but Tampa’s going to miss B.J. Upton and what offensive threats they do have are going to be under a ton of pressure. They'll contend, but I think they will fall just short like they did the last two years.

Baltimore was a big surprise last year, but they have been the victim of a lot of criticism in the baseball media-most analysts seem to think last year was a fluke year because of the run differential and the amount of 1-run games they won last year. This is not without reason: their rotation is still relatively unproven, and their offense is not deep. Adam Jones is a star, and the combination of Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis will help as well, but I don't see this team going to the postseason. The bullpen is phenomenal, but I'm not sure if Jim Johnson can return to form after imploding in the ALDS. They'll finish over .500 and contend, certainly-possibly still be a threat in September, but I think the O's are going to fall short this year.

The 2013 Yankees look really, really fragile. They lost Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, and Russell Martin. Alex Rodriguez has become a laughingstock. Derek Jeter is getting old and nobody's really sure how he'll rebound from injury. Curtis Granderson is out for at least a month. Mark Teixiera is in decline. Mariano Rivera's back for one more year but is he going to be the closer we remember? And in a very non-Yankee fashion they didn't do much to improve their team by going out and trading or signing big free agents. Their pitching is good, but it was largely saved by the bats last year and I'm very skeptical that they're going to perform like they did last year. They'll look like the spitting image of the 2012 Phillies if they don't do anything serious in the near future.

And rounding out the East, the Boston Red Sox. This team is definitely improved from last year's embarrassing 69-93 season, but I don't think they are going to be a playoff contender. True, they'll score more runs with Victorino and Napoli supporting Big Papi, Pedroia, Middlebrooks, a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury, and Saltalamacchia, but the rest of the division is too good, the pitching is full of question marks (Lester will rebound, but Lackey is a huge if, and Ryan Dempster struggled in the American League-behind that there isn't much. The decent bullpen won't get enough opportunities to convert quality starts to wins.

AL Central

x-Detroit Tigers 95-67
Kansas City Royals 84-78
Chicago White Sox 80-82
Cleveland Indians 76-86
Minnesota Twins 72-90

Detroit is far and away the best team in this division-the rotation has baseball's premier pitchers in Justin Verlander, and Max Scherzer and Doug Fister are both up-and-coming stars. I think the offense will be even better this year as guys like Austin Jackson mature. Victor Martinez will protect Fielder and Cabrera. If the bullpen can improve, the Tigers will run away with this division.

The Royals quietly picked up both Ervin Santana and James Shields, adding two proven starters and bolstering an otherwise very questionable rotation, and they have some great talent at the dish with Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer. If they stay healthy and produce to their potential, this team could contend for a Wild Card spot, but I believe they will fall short because of the lack of consistency behind Shields and Santana.

Third in the standings sit the Chicago White Sox. Da Sox challenged the Tigers for much of the 2012 season but eventually ran out of gas as August turned into September. And they did virtually nothing to improve their team in the offseason. Kevin Youkilis left for the Yankees. Veteran A.J. Pierzynski, as much as he is maligned as an awful teammate, will be missed for his presence behind the dish, and behind Jake Peavy and Chris Sale, there’s not much starting pitching in this team. Paul Konerko and Gordon Beckham can’t carry this team offensively themselves, and the bullpen is really nothing special. They won’t be bad, but I doubt they’ll get too close to the playoffs.

Cleveland has improved in the offseason but they’re still a few years away from contention. Terry Francona will prove to be a good manager (BOSTON MISSES YOU, TITO!), and they picked up Nick Swisher, Drew Stubbs, and Mark Reynolds. But the fact is, the rotation these guys have is abysmal. They have no lefties and the righties they have are pretty awful too. Unless they come out of nowhere like Baltimore or Oakland did last year, don’t expect too much from this team.

And last, the Minnesota Twins. Much like the Indians, they have a decent offense but next to no pitching. Sorry, but Scott Diamond can’t pitch every game, and Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau won’t be around forever.

AL West

x-Anaheim Angels 96-66
y-Oakland Athletics 90-72
Texas Rangers 85-77
Seattle Mariners 79-83
Houston Astros 51-111

I’m still not entirely sure why the Anaheim Angels (And yes, it’s the Anaheim Angels, I still think changing the name to “LA Angels of Anaheim” was flat-out stupid) went out and picked up Josh Hamilton. They have plenty of power in their lineup already with Trout, Trumbo, and Pujols. On paper, this team is far and away the best in the West, but as we saw last year-that doesn’t guarantee much. Behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, the rotation is still relatively pedestrian. The bullpen has been improved, but it’s still not guaranteed to be lights out, especially in this difficult division. Still, this is the Halos’ division to lose. They’re going to look really stupid if they end up missing the playoffs again.

Call it whatever you want: Moneyball 2. Revenge of Moneyball. Moneyball meets Major League. The Oakland A’s were just plain fun to follow last year.  They’ve improved in some ways-they have Nakajima at SS, Chris Young bolsters an already deep outfield, and Jay behind the dish. I think Cespedes will be even better this year if he stays healthy. And as long as Grant Balfour comes back from his arm surgery, the bullpen trio of him, Cook, and Doolittle will be lights-out. Brett Anderson heads a young and improving rotation. However-this team’s offense is going to be under huge pressure to keep up with Trout, Trumbo, Pujols, and Hamilton. And while the A’s may have the advantage in their pitching, I think the Angels will still win the division. Keep in mind that the Rangers are still a threat and the Mariners look to be getting better. Oakland will get the first Wild Card this year.

Texas sits in third-they lost Michael Young, Mike Napoli, and Josh Hamilton, as well Koji Uehara in the bullpen. You also won’t be seeing Dempster or Oswalt making starts for Texas anymore. Don’t get me wrong-Darvish, Harrison, and Holland are very talented and will keep the Rangers afloat in this tough division, but Netfali Feliz and Nelson Cruz are still a liability. Mike Ott and Jurickson Profar will be interesting to see come up but Texas of all teams should know that you can’t win divisions, let alone pennants or championships with just good offense. I think they’ll contend, but fall short towards the end of the season.

Seattle signed King Felix Hernandez to a mammoth contract this offseason, and he’s truly the face of the franchise, especially since Ichiro Suzuki is gone. Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, and Robert Andino are now wearing Seattle’s green and blue, and this should bode well for the offense, which has been lackluster since...well, Edgar Martinez, John Olerud, and Brett Boone were smashing home runs almost ten years ago. Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager could be a threat if they start to adjust. However, the real problem on this team is the rotation-after King Felix, this rotation is full of unproven arms, and unless they end up doing what the A’s did last year, I don’t see Seattle contending just yet.

Last, and in this case, definitely least, is the Houston Astros. It’s not really a surprise to anyone that this team will be extraordinarily lucky if they win 70 games in this tough division. They have no rotation, and very little offensively behind Jose Altuve, their budding second baseman. They’ll be competing with the Marlins for MLB’s Quadruple-A team this year.

x-Clinch Division title
y-Clinch First Wild Card
z-Clinch Second Wild Card

So, in conclusion:

The Blue Jays, Tigers, and Angels are your division winners.
Oakland (1) and Tampa Bay (2) win the Wild Cards.